“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”
—Native American proverb
Said another way:
“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
—Nelle Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Don't be too quick to judge. Don't be too harsh on others. The following three songs give some important perspectives worth considering.
Ain't No Rest for the Wicked, by Cage the Elephant
I was walkin' down the street When out the corner of my eye I saw a pretty little thing approaching me
She said I never seen a man Who looked so all alone Oh could you use a little company
And if you pay the right price Your evening will be nice You can go and send me on my way
I said you're such a sweet young thing Why do you do this to yourself? She looked at me and this is what she said
[Chorus:] There ain't no rest for the wicked Money don't grow on trees I got bills to pay I got mouths to feed Ain't nothing in this world for free No I can't slow down I can't hold back Though you know I wish I could No there ain't no rest for the wicked Until we close our eyes for good
Not even 15 minutes later I'm still walkin' down the street When I saw the shadow of a man creep out of sight And then he swept up from behind He put a gun up to my head He made it clear he wasn't lookin' for a fight
He said give me all you got I want your money not your life But if you try to make a move I won't think twice
I told him you can have my cash But first you know I gotta ask What made you want to live this kind of life?
Well now a couple hours passed And I was sitting in my house The day was winding down and coming To an end
So I turned to the TV And flipped it over to the news And what I saw I almost couldn't Comprehend
I saw a preacher man in cuffs He'd taken money from the church He'd stuff his bank account with righteous Dollar bills
But even still I can't say much Because I know we're all the same Oh yes we all seek out to satisfy those thrills
I've liked that since it came out. Good to keep perspective that not everyone leads a charmed life and judging ain't kosher.
Another song I like with similar meaning is Everlast's What It's Like
We've all seen the man at the liquor store beggin' for your change The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange He ask the man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes Get a job you f-----' slob's all he replied
[CHORUS] God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes 'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues Then you really might know what it's like [x4]
Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom who said he was in love He said don't worry about a thing baby doll I'm the man you've been dreamin' of But three months later he said he won't date her or return her call And she sweared god damn if I find that man I'm cuttin' off his b--- And then she heads for the clinic and she gets some static walkin' through the doors They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner, and they call her a whore
[CHORUS] God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes 'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to choose Then you really might know what it's like [x4]
I've seen a rich man beg I've seen a good man sin I've seen a tough man cry I've seen a loser win And a sad man grin I heard an honest man lie I've seen the good side of bad And the down side of up And everything between I licked the silver spoon Drank from the golden cup Smoked the finest green I stroked the fattest dimes at least a couple of times Before I broke their heart You know where it ends Yo, it usually depends on where you start
I knew this kid named Max He used to get fat stacks out on the corner with drugs He liked to hang out late at night Liked to get s--- faced And keep pace with thugs Until late one night there was a big gun fight Max lost his head He pulled out his chrome .45 Talked some s--- And wound up dead Now his wife and his kids are caught in the midst of all of his pain You know it crumbles that way At least that's what they say when you play the game
[CHORUS] God forbid you ever had to wake up to hear the news 'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to lose Then you really might know what it's like [x3]
To have to lose...
Another one along that line I like is Gangsta's Paradise, by Coolio
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realize there's nothin' left Cause I've been blasting and laughing so long, That even my mama thinks that my mind is gone But I ain't never crossed a man that didn't deserve it Me be treated like a punk you know that's unheard of You better watch how you're talking and where you're walking Or you and your homies might be lined in chalk I really hate to trip but I gotta loc As they croak, I see myself in the pistol smoke, fool I'm the kinda G the little homies wanna be like On my knees in the night saying prayers in the streetlight
CHORUS Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise Been spending most their lives, living in the gangsta's paradise Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta's paradise
Look at the situation they got me facin' I can't live a normal life, I was raised by the streets So I gotta be down with the hood team Too much television watching got me chasing dreams I'm an educated fool with money on my mind Got my 10 in my hand and a gleam in my eye I'm a loc'd out gangsta set trippin' banger And my homies is down so don't arouse my anger, fool Death ain't nothing but a heartbeat away, I'm living life, do or die, what can I say I'm 23 now, but will I live to see 24 The way things is going I don't know
Tell me why are we so blind to see That the ones we hurt are you and me
Power and the money, money and the power Minute after minute, hour after hour Everybody's running, but half of them ain't looking What's going on in the kitchen, but I don't know what's cookin' They say I gotta learn, but nobody's here to teach me If they can't understand it, how can they reach me I guess they can't, I guess they won't I guess they front, that's why I know my life is out of luck, fool
Tell me why are we so blind to see That the one's we hurt are you and me Tell me why are we so blind to see That the one's we hurt are you and me
This has the very salient verse:
"They say I got to learn, but nobody's here to teach meIf they can't understand, how can they reach me?! I guess they can't, I guess they won't I guess they front, that's why I know my life is out of luck, fool."
Maybe you know this, but to "front" is to put up a front, or be fake, or to pose—to try but not "get" it. I've worked with so many people (teens and adults) in and out of the forensic system, including gang kids who have been so disenfranchised it's no wonder the way they've had to live their lives just to cope. One of the saddest books I've read is There Are No Children Here. When anyone says to me "they just need to choose better" or "they brought this on themselves" I think, "Wow. They clearly don't know their stories. They don't know their lives. They never grew up in that kind of chaos." It's not aways that cut and dry and simple to "just choose not to."
So these songs I think are good illustrations/reminders of how important it is to understand someone if we are to reach someone. You don't have to have lived someone's life to be able to understand though. You have to be willing to enter their world, to believe them, to suspend judgment and criticism, to extend compassion. Connect your pain and suffering in your life to theirs in their life. It doesn't have to be equal suffering for two people to connect. The word compassion itself comes from the Latin "compati" which means "to suffer with." Jesus, "a man of sorrow, well acquainted with grief" said "blessed are they who mourn with those that mourn." The psychobabble term for this in my field is called "joining."
Fortunately for me there's been such great research in this field and I've had great mentors who've taught me how to join people where they are as they are. Entering someone's worldview/experience as much as possible vs. try to get them to be where they "should" be opens people up to change if they are ready and want to, and if they aren't then a meaningful connection was established with another person. My clients have taught me so much because of that. The bonus is I'm not only better able to help them, I become wiser because of their experience added to my own, which lends so much more to helping the next person. Compassion multiplies us.
Are we not all beggars?
When people say, "they brought this on themselves" I am reminded of what King Benjamin, who was a king/prophet from my spiritual tradition, said admonishing his people,
"And also, ye yourselves will succor [definition: "to give assistance and support in times of hardship and distress"] those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
"Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
"But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
"For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?" —Mosiah 4:16-19
Bottom line: Suspend judgement. Extend compassion.
How do YOU maintain compassion and keep from judging others? Please share your thoughts below...